THE BLOG

Industrialists Need to Make One New Year's Resolution - Bet on the Next Generation

09/01/2014 15:04 GMT | Updated 11/03/2014 09:59 GMT

Now we have said goodbye to 2013, there will be many personal New Year resolutions made as we stride forward into 2014.

Those in business will be looking at how they can improve operations, set new targets, meet new goals.

More profit, a tighter ship, greater accountability, new products, better marketing, strategic planning, will all feature on To Do lists for CEOs and boards of directors across the UK.

All will be designed to tackle the New Year head-on, and to create growing, more prosperous companies as we look to put the tough economic times of the last few years behind us - as individuals, families, business leaders and indeed, as a nation.

Unfortunately, there will be one vital element lacking from the agenda of many companies when it comes to planning for the New Year: the recruitment and training of young people.

While companies will enter many CSR initiatives and numbers forecasts and projections into official documents, the investment in the most important resource we have - the next generation - will often be overlooked.

Yet the need to tackle the issues of youth unemployment and the skilling of our young people, as Britain seeks to compete with the rest of the world, cannot be overstated.

While jobless figures are falling, the statistic for the number of 16-24 year olds out of work hovers stubbornly around the one million mark.

Although there has been some improvement, that is a startling number in anyone's book. And when you consider businesses are desperate for skilled young people, one that is very hard to comprehend.

The German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, recently summed up the Europe-wide situation with grim but realistic words: for her, youth unemployment was the biggest crisis facing Europe, where there are a total of six million young people unemployed.

She called on other European countries to adopt the German dual-system which mixes schooling and work experience, saying: "We in Germany have learned a lot from successfully reducing unemployment by means of structural reform since reunification and we can now bring that experience to bear...

"We should not just try to make our young people more academic.

"Germany is seeing the positive effects of skilled workers and master craftsmen having an excellent reputation too.

"We need to prevent the emergence of a "lost generation."

The German system has long been admired but there is also an irony here in that Germany has often called on young people from the UK, particularly in engineering (itself a sector in the UK which we know is in dire need of new talented young people) to train in German companies.

There have been moves in the UK recently to upgrade the levels of graduate and apprentices programmes and the improving of vocational education. Following the Richards Review into apprenticeships in the UK, the Government recently launched its Trailblazer scheme. There is a concerted move to raise the awareness around the issue as well as improve qualifications gained from workplace training schemes.

While there has been a great amount of energy in the supply side, there needs to be a greater pull from the demand side and by this I mean industry itself. The linking of skills taught, to skills needed in business is of paramount importance.

In October 2013, QinetiQ, the company of which I am CEO, and a group of likeminded businesses Babcock International, Airbus Group, MBDA, Renishaw and Atkins, joined forces to form The 5% Club.

After launch, we have had a flow of new sign-ups across many sectors and sizes - from retail and services to professional, from FYTSE100 to SMEs, that lifeblood of our economy in the UK.

Together, we are calling on all companies in the UK, large and small, to "Invest in a Generation", by signing up to the Club and pledging that their UK workforces will comprise five per cent of apprentice, graduates and sponsored students on formal training course within five years. Member companies will record this commitment, for the first time ever, in company accounts. I believe what gets measured, gets done: we need to set ourselves goals to help tackle the chronic youth skills and unemployment problem.

The influential Confederation for British Industry, which is a member of The 5% Club, recently signalled that there is an opportunity to do this.

The CBI asked 325 private-sector firms of all sizes whether they think their workforce will grow over the next 12 months.

The answer from more than half was 'yes'. After years of redundancies and recruitment freezes, the data is very good news for all concerned.

And it gives business a golden chance to recruit and train more young people in apprentice and graduate programmes, teaching them the vital skills to help them carve out careers. We need growth, and we need to give the younger generation the skills to foster this growth and in turn, our future prosperity.

It is the responsibility of business to rise to the challenge and make one solid resolution for 2014 - to recruit more apprentices and graduates in your organisations as part of The 5% Club.

So make investing in a generation your New Year's priority as a business leader - either by joining The 5% Club or, if you already have done so, by bringing in another member.

For more on The 5% Club, click here